In an interview with SiriusXM Radio on Friday morning, Kamala Harris was asked whether, if she wins the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, she would consider naming a woman as her running mate.
“Yes, I would,” she responded, adding that an all-female ticket would be “fabulous.”
Pressed by SiriusXM’s Mark Thompson on whether Americans, who have still not elected a female president, are ready for such a thing, Harris was more circumspect: “We’ll see if it happens.”
And she’s not the only female candidate considering it. Sen. Elizabeth Warren also told Thompson: “I’d put a woman on my ticket. I’d put a man on my ticket. What I want is somebody who’d be in the fight.”
If “it” happens –and by “it” I mean Harris or Warren is the party’s nominee – that, in and of itself, would be consequential. Prior to Hillary Clinton’s victory in the 2016 primary fight, neither party had ever even nominated a woman as its presidential standard-bearer. (Sarah Palin and Geraldine Ferraro had both been named VP, although their tickets lost the election.)
Despite that history, most polling suggests people are totally cool with a female president. A 2015 Gallup poll showed that 92% of people said they would vote for a female president. (Just 47% said they would vote for a socialist as president.)
There’s reason to be skeptical of that number, however. Not because Gallup’s numbers are suspect – it’s the gold standard of polling, in fact – but because people don’t always, well, tell the truth to pollsters. Think about it: If a total stranger called you on the phone and asked you whether you would vote for a female candidate for president, there’s a high likelihood that if you had doubts about doing that, you wouldn’t tell that pollster.
Women themselves are much more skeptical about whether the country is ready for a female president. More than half – 56% – said that it was unlikely a woman would be elected in their lifetime, according to a Time-SSRS poll conducted in the fall of 2018. Those numbers varied based on party: A majority (53%) of Democratic women thought a woman would win the White House in their lifetime while just 35% of Republican women said the same.
For her part, Clinton has cited sexism as one of the reasons that she came up short against Donald Trump in 2016.
“I started the campaign knowing that I would have to work extra hard to make women and men feel comfortable with the idea of a woman president,” Clinton said in early 2017 in an interview with CBS. “It doesn’t fit into the – the stereotypes we all carry around in our head. And a lot of the sexism and the misogyny was in service of these attitudes. Like, you know, ‘We really don’t want a woman commander in chief.’”
She won female voters by 13 points, while losing male ones to Trump by 11 points, according to 2016 exit polling. Women made up 53% of the electorate. (Numbers don’t add up, you say? Remember that Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots.)
Two years after Clinton’s defeat, female voters – and female candidates – were at the heart of Democrats’ successful campaign to retake the House majority in 2018. Again according to exit polls, women comprised 52% of the electorate and voted for Democratic candidates over Republicans by a whopping 19 points. (Men favored Republican candidates by just 4 points.) In the course of the 2018 election, 102 women were elected to the House (a record number) and 15 more were elected or appointed to the Senate. The midterms also saw the first Muslim American women elected, the first Native American women and two youngest women ever elected.
Those landmark gains have led to a record number of female candidates running for president in 2020: 6. Harris is regarded by many people – including the rankings Harry Enten and I do each month – as one of the frontrunners for Democratic nod.
All of which means that there is a real possibility that Harris – or another one of the female candidates – will end up as the party nominee. And then will come a critical decision: Are you willing to stake at least part of your chance of being president on the belief that American is ready for an all-female ticket?